Friday, April 5, 2013

Mid-Semester Break in FIJI!

Day 1:

After a long day of travel from Brisbane to Sydney to Fiji, Lauren and I finally arrived in Nadi at around 7PM Fijian time. There was no stress getting through customs and collecting our luggage then meeting our driver back to Bamboo hostel. We were greeted with “Bula! BULA!” from every direction (meaning hello or welcome) and shown to our 12-person dorm. The accommodation here is clean, and the other travelers are friendly, so I feel very safe.

We went across the street for dinner to a resort, and although the food ended up tasting good, the hour and a half wait and prices were not worth it. While we waited, Fijian dancers and people who had slurped one too many cocktails entertained us. The night ended at a reasonable hour, and our bunk beds and pillows felt wonderful beneath our tired bodies.

Day 2:

Waking up to the bluest sky, the greenest grass, the brightest sun and the friendliest people was the most beautiful experience when I opened my eyes this morning. I’M IN FIJI!

I washed my face and walked downstairs out to the main court to purchase a small breakfast. Two poached eggs and some pineapple was enough on my traveling tummy to fill me up, and Lauren and I planned to buy more food for the week at the store. We walked down the road with the intention of walking all the way to the market, but a taxi driver convinced us at only $3 (Fijian dollars, that is - $1 US ~ $2 Fijian). Then, on the way to the market, our driver began to tell us about the island and where to go visit. I’m not really sure about the exact transition, but some how we worked out a deal where he took us to three different locations and acted as our guide for the day for a grand total of $30 Fijian each!

Kris, short for Krishtna (our driver) first drove us to the top of the hills at the landing spot, where we got out and could count every single island from this peak. It was phenomenal! The entire drive there was breathtaking as well, and of course I had left my camera at home! (I’ll try to later incorporate some of Lauren’s into this entry). After standing in awe for several minutes and snapping tons of photos, we descended into the first landing village, where a woman gave us a tour of the area that was first inhabited and the history behind it. The most interesting – and scary – thing that I learned was the fact that Fijians used to be cannibals! We were introduced to the many killing devices such as the “neck breaker” and the “eye fork.” She told us that when it was dinnertime, it didn’t matter if it was your mother or sister or brother, you were all of a sudden the meal if someone was hungry. They had ended this lifestyle when they were converted to Christianity, and she sang about how happy they were that Jesus saved them from their ways.

After the tour, Kris drove us back up the mountain (what a view!) and we took some of the bumpiest roads up to the Sleeping Giant Garden. There, over 200 types of orchids bloomed left and right, and the beautiful path extended back into what seemed like a tropical rainforest. The walk wasn’t too long, but the complimentary passion fruit and orange juice was a wonderful way to end the short hike.

On the way home, we stopped at a grocery store and the fresh market and picked up things like oats and rasins, tuna and sweet potatoes, and some peanuts for snacking.

We went back to Bamboo when we were done with our activities, and it was just past 12:30PM at that point. Time was passing SLOOOOWLY, and we felt like we were moving just as slow, so we went across the street to the beach and took a nap. We didn’t pass out for too long in fear of the powerful Fijian sun, and shook off our sleepiness with a walk and a dip in the pool.

Lauren took a nap when we went back to Bamboo and I patiently attempted to gain access to Wifi so I could message friends and family. I probably ended up sending a grand total of 6 iMessages and one email. Lauren came down and sent a message to a friend, and then we headed upstairs to make dinner. She made a boiled sweet potato and I made sweet potatoes, carrots, tuna and we enjoyed some beverages as well. After socializing and watching the stars on the hammock it was time for bed, and my bunk felt just as wonderful the second night in a row.

Day 3:

My breakfast was made up of oatmeal with raisins, an apple, peanuts and a poach egg and scarfed it down before 9AM, when Kris met us to drive us once again. He was kind enough to arrange to be our driver almost every day for no extra charge. Our first stop was a tourist office where we booked our full day cruise to Beachcomber Island for a great discount. Then we ventured back up the mountain to the hot springs and mud pool to get messy and relax. It was the weirdest feeling as I sank down into the hot mud and water. Susu, our assistant (the guy who makes sure you don’t down in mud), was really nice and put our mud masks on and told us a little bit about the area. For such a massive man, he had the highest and softest voice and he spoke at a very relaxed pace; it was like a lullaby. Then, after we were done experiencing the mud pool, we hopped out to get covered from head to toe in mud! Lauren threw a huge glob on me and we had a short mud fight before being nice and helping each other get covered in sticky black mud. We then dried out in the sun and took some funny pictures before rinsing off in the mud pool, then giving our bodies a better rinse in the hot springs. And as if our experience couldn’t get any more relaxing, we decided to get massages with coconut oil for half an hour. I fell asleep for a bit but not long enough to ruin the experience, then we loped back to the car to head home.

For lunch I made 2 hard-boiled eggs and peeled an orange and had a cucumber, and then I made a poached egg to mix into my oats with pepper and boiled carrot. Still lethargic from the massage, Lauren and I returned to the beach for a walk then a nap where I was in such a deep sleep, Lauren checked my pulse after attempting to wake me up several times! We walked back to the hostel to check for Internet (no such luck) and met a friend, C.J., who gave us plenty of money-saving tips! It’s only 5PM now, so I’m going to shower then I think Lauren and I are going to take a cheap ($1) bus into town to get cheap and yummy dinner!

…. Turns out everything was closed, so we went to a wifi “café” and paid 50 cents to use the computers for 30 minutes. Dinner was more oats and eggs and a lot of raisins. Regardless of my less than satisfying meal, I still had a great night talking to so many new people. Lauren and I also decided to try “Kava,” the traditional Fijian concoction made of ground Kava root. Apparently if you drink about 20 cups of it, you feel drunk or happy or something, but the horrible muddy water they call Kava only made it down my throat three times, barely adding up to one cup of the stuff. I kindly held my hand up to say no thank you when the coconut shell full of Kava came my way and enjoyed the music instead. The locals are incredibly musically talented and can sing and play guitar for just about any song! The songs got slower as it got later and Lauren and I headed back to the dorm for the night to wake up early for our beach adventure the next day.

Day 4:

6AM came too quickly, but I was eager to get out to the beautiful white sand and bright blue waters on Beachcomber Island. Our taxi was a no-show, so we rushed to the airport in a different taxi where we were then transferred to a shuttle and taken to a resort on the water. We sat and waited at Anchorage Resort (the boat would depart from here) and managed to sneak a few cups of coffee from the breakfast buffet. Lauren was sneaky and snagged some Weet-Bix and peanut butter as well, because she missed breakfast at the hostel. At around 9AM, this big steel boat pulled up to the “dock” which would apparently transport all of us to the island. It was sturdy, but definitely not the ship that was described to us. I really didn’t mind, because I knew what lay at the end of the journey. The trip was pleasant and the water was calm, and the only irritation came from the extremely large group of Japanese tourists that took your picture when they thought you weren’t looking and seemed to think it was cute and funny to all say “aahhhyaaa” at the same time every 5 minutes.

The water drastically changed from navy blue to turquoise as we increased our distance from the mainland, and soon enough we were hopping on a small boat to float over the shallow waters and onto shore. We were greeted by a group of large, singing Fijian men wearing tropical attire and then briefed about all of the activities available to us free of charge. The first event was morning tea. Snorkels sold out quickly while we sat and sipped so we missed the 11AM trip and layed out and slept in the sun for about an hour before happy hour began at noon. Drinks were extremely expensive so we purchased a diet coke and two cups of ice to accompany my duty-free tucked in my backpack. Lauren got some amazing photos of us sipping and sitting in the sun, looking out at the water. It felt as though this was what we had been waiting for.

A buffet lunch opened up at 1PM, and we waited in line to patiently pile our plates with rice, several curry dishes, beef with cabbage, chickpea salad and coconut cake. They were generous enough to let us have two servings, and we were more than stuffed by the time we were half way done (but of course we didn’t let a scrap of food go to waste).

Snorkeling and fish feeding at 2PM came quickly with little time to digest, but it was still an amazing experience. They handed us HUGE chunks of bread to throw in the water and all of the tropical fish came swarming like piranhas (thank god there weren’t any of those, however). I even held onto a piece and dipped my hand into the water to feel them nibbling impatiently until I let go. When we were out of bread, we changed locations to a bigger reef and put on our gear. Lauren entered by leaning backwards off the boat and was greeted with salt water down her throat and up her nose because of a leaky snorkel. Funny girl. I decided to jump feet first, and when I dipped my mask into the water I was amazed at how surprisingly beautiful this location was. The reef was extremely colorful and full of life! I swam a few meters and saw a reef shark, which got my heart pumping for a minute. I equalized my ears and dove down about 20 feet to get a different angle on the coral and other life under the surface. The water had great visibility and the current wasn’t too strong, so the entire snorkel trip went even better than expected. Time passed too quickly, and we hopped back on the boat – Lauren and I were the last ones out of the water.

Salty and sleepy, we took yet another nap on the beach and enjoyed another coke. We reapplied sunscreen about 5 times total throughout the day and managed to escape the tomato-look that so many vacationers were sporting. 5PM rolled around and the boat pulled up to the island, signaling departure time. It was just the right amount of time for a day trip, and the ride back was smooth, accompanied by a beautiful Fijian sunset. A shuttle took us back from Anchorage to Bamboo, and we showered and got ready for dinner.

Every Wednesday at Bamboo hostel is Lovo! Lovo! night. Lovo! Lovo! Is a big meal that they cook in a wood fired oven and it’s a feast made up of seasonal veggies and meats that are all cooked Fijian-style. I didn’t get a picture because it was extremely dark, but I remember there was chicken with a tangy sauce, Fijian potato slices (it tasted and had the texture of thick potato-like bread), creamy spinach with onions, a pumpkin slice, fried eggplant fritters, and a seafood ceviche-type soup with coconut. The whole dish was amazing and I know for a fact that I am going to try and recreate the creamy spinach bundle and the eggplant fritters.

We spend the rest of the night talking with new friends and laughing at their stories. Most of them got rather drunk (I chose to chug water instead because of another 6AM morning tomorrow), and made the night even funnier. Sophie, a Danish girl, who was hilarious and friendly decided that she, Lauren and I should go skinny dipping; so, we left the crowd for about 15 minutes, snuck down to the beach, stripped and ran into the warm ocean. We giggled and watched the night sky with billions of stars shining down, then snuck back to our clothes when the fish started nibbling! Casually, we sat back down at the table of our friends and no one noticed. Instead we all talked some more then retreated to the beach because we were too loud for the night hour at our location. Most of us jumped in the hammocks at a nearby resort and some waddled along the sand, and eventually a light came on and we ran away laughing, back to our hostel. It was a wonderful night.

Day 5:

Again, 6AM was the time to rise and today we planned to meet Kris (our taxi driver) down at the beach at 7AM. On the first day, I had asked if we could fish with him after he had told us about his daily fishing routine and he gladly invited us to come along. So after some oatmeal, we walked down to the shore and met Kris and his giant fishing net in the water. His friend (he called his uncle for some reason – and there’s NO way he was his uncle) and I held one side and Lauren and Kris held the other as we waded into the water, about chest-deep. We then walked opposite directions, expanding the net, until it was completely stretched out to just over 100 meters. Next, we walked backwards, toward the shore, pulling the net with us. When we hit shore, we dragged it quickly onto the sand to not lose any fish. It was actually very heavy and took a bit of arm strength. We repeated the process about 4 times and filled half a bucket with small and medium-sized fish and discarded the crabs and jelly that managed to brush against the back of my leg.

After we rinsed off and put on dry clothes, we met Kris back at his car and headed to the store to pick up a chicken to make chicken curry and have a feast back at his house. When we arrived at his small, yet beautiful home, decorated with Indian-style curtains and patterns, we met his kind wife. She made us black tea and we all sat on a mat outside chatting while Kris and his “uncle” cleaned the fish. They cut the fish in half with scissors then removed the fins and scraped the scales, leaving the heads and bones intact. Kris ran a few errands while his wife taught Lauren and I how to make chicken curry. We peeled the garlic for her and watched as each ingredient built the strong and steady scent of a good curry. After Kris returned with a coconut, he showed us how to scrape the insides with a unique tool then how to make fresh coconut milk with the meat and water. It tasted heavenly.

Finally, after waiting three and a half hours for the process, it was lunchtime. They set the table for Lauren and I and would eat their portions after we left, and we sat down to the meal. The dishes consisted of chicken curry (which was honestly more bones than meat, but still tasty), a coconut fish soup, rice, a few small chopped pieces of fried okra, and fried whole fish (which I ate two of so Lauren wouldn’t have to in order to be polite). The meal was good, even though it didn’t set too well in our stomachs, and we thanked Kris and his wife for everything before he took us into the city where we would spend the next part of our last day in Fiji. He dropped us off in front of the beautiful temple where we said goodbye, snapped a few photos, then walked to the Internet café to let our families know we were doing well and headed out the next morning. Then, to settle our stomachs, we went to a café we had seen the other night when it was closed and Lauren ordered a chocolate shake and toast and I had a HUGE mango slushie. We sat in the air conditioning and recounted our adventures then made our way back to the hostel.

It was naptime on the beach with a sunset then dinnertime afterwards. We sat at the tables and talked with friends all night until we really had to go to sleep to wake early in the morning at 5AM for our 8AM flight out of Nadi. Goodbyes were short.

Day 6:

5AM: Woke up
6AM: Departed hostel
8AM: Departed Nadi
*time change*
11AM: Arrived in Brisbane

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